Sunday, June 13, 2010

Combination theory

These days it isn't enough to just have one megawatt star if you want to be successful (see Cleveland Cavaliers); there is a lot of talk about needing a one-two punch. But this isn't just a recent trend, combination theory has been around for decades. So let's take a look at which combinations have been successful in the past and how teams could emulate them in light of this free agent feeding frenzy.

  • PG and C: This combo has worked countless times before, because these are the two hardest positions to fill, and when you have talented players in both positions things get a lot easier for you. Just ask Magic and Kareem. The greatest point guard in the history of the game and the all-time leading scorer knew how to win games and championships. At the moment, there are few combinations like this in the League enjoying any real success, which is mainly because of the dropoff in quality centres. The NBA is in a transition period where a lot of centres are either dinosaurs or children. If the Nets had managed to land John Wall we could have had Magic-Kareem 2.0 but I guess for now we'll have to settle for what we have got. What we have is Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson. While Superman's offensive game is still in its infancy, he and Nelson have built a chemistry that leads to more embarrassing alley-oops than should be legal in the pro ranks. While they have yet to capture a championship, they looked to be the best team in basketball towards the end of the season, and given growth from Howard could be even tougher to beat. A healthy Bogut and a more mature Brandon Jennings are also nothing to sneeze at. With no superstar Cs or PGs on the market this off-season, free agency isn't likely to have an impact.
  • PG and PF: Once again we have a little and a big. PFs are generally more mobile than Cs and are more offensively minded. Given the prevalence of the pick and roll in the NBA today, a scoring PF is becoming increasingly important. However, this combo has had success in the past, and even if Hall of Fame duo Karl Malone and John Stockton could never quite wrest the Larry O'Brien Trophy from MJ, two trips to the Finals are two more than most players get in their careers. The same can be said for Kevin Johnson and Charles Barkley in Phoenix who met Mike in the '93 Finals.There are a number of PG/PF combos thriving in the NBA today; just look at runner-up Western Conference team Phoenix Suns with Nash and Stoudemire, or Tony Parker and Tim Duncan who upset second-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs this year. However, with a foursome of offensively minded PFs on the free agent market in Bosh, Boozer, Stoudemire and Lee and an abundance of young talented PGs on teams with cap space, the right pairing could immediately catapult a team into title contention. Bosh, Stoudemire, Boozer and Lee would all benefit a team immensely in that order but are pretty much interchangeable so I'll just name the point guards looking for running mates; Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall. These three Calipari alumni join Rajon Rondo, CP3 and Deron Williams as the future of the league at the point guard position. Give any of them one of those four PFs and things are looking good for the future. I'm aware that Dirk is also a free agent, but I don't see him as very likely to leave Dallas so I didn't bother mentioning it. It might be too soon to call it, but Baron Davis and Blake Griffin could explode in L.A. too.
  • SG and C: Yes, there is a bit of a pattern here with the little + big = success formula. Having a superstar SG and a dominant C to get boards and offensive rebounds means headaches for other teams. If you double team low then who will stop the SG from killing you? If you want an example of where this has worked in the past I'd point you in the direction of the Black Mamba and Shaq. Three titles and four Finals appearances in four years has to mean something. If they could have got along it could have been a few more. However, like I said above, the glory days of Cs are seemingly gone and in an earlier post I talked about the downfall of the SG position. The best chance of this happening would be if Rudy Gay bolts from Memphis and OJ and Gasol the younger step up. I feel like I should mention Bynum and Kobe here as Andrew is a big part of the Lakers success, but the focus is clearly on Pau at this point in time. If by some miracle the Lakers do what I hope and get their hands on Lance we could have something to look forward to in the future.

  • SG and PF: This one isn't really one for the ages; it is a more recent trend for a SG to team up with a PF and win a title. Take a look at Pau Gasol and Kobe though and tell me it doesn't work. Those two will be around for a few years yet, and if Kobe can be healthy for the playoffs it is likely they'll be getting a ring or two more (if not this year) because the Celtics can't stay healthy and together forever. A certain recently signed Jordan Brand athlete could be the source of another devastating SG/PF combo in Miami. If Wade can convince one of the free agent PFs to come on down then we might just have a winner. Given the amount of cap space the Heat have and the likelihood that at least two will be leaving (Lee and Bosh) this is one of the more likely combinations to actually happen. Lee's blue-collar mentality suits the Heat's rep as hardest working team in the NBA and after toiling away in a useless Knicks team he'll be glad to give Wade the limelight and the ball if it means winning.
  • SG and SF: Spread your wings and fly. It is no coincidence that the centrepiece of the only successful double wing partnership was nicknamed "His Airness". This is it people, MJ and Pippen. 6-0 in Finals they played together, and all without a dominant big man. It was a slashing, shooting, dunking machine that was beautiful to watch. What is so difficult about making this combo work though is that it requires one of two very talented and very similar players to take on a supporting role. MJ and Pippen worked because Scottie let MJ have the reins. It isn't a matter of talent, it is a matter of humility, which is something a lot of players lack - see my post about needing role players. Being the second option on a championship team should be something to aspire to, but most people want to be the star. I'll say it straight up that the SG needs to be the dominant member. It is customary for the guard to handle the ball more and it clearly worked for the Bulls. This is why I wonder if LeBron will win a title. The only other SF to have great success in recent history has been Larry Bird, and he wasn't anywhere near as ball-dominant as James. Frankly, I can't see LeBron taking a back seat to anyone, so unless they move him to the off-guard position I don't see many rings in his future. However, while the best SG in Kobe might be locked in with Pau as his running mate, Dwyane Wade is still looking. Looking at the list of free agents, we might finally have a chance at Jordan-Pippen 2.0. I don't mean Wade-LeBron either. I think Rudy Gay would be the perfect fit for this combo with Wade. He is young, athletic, but considered a second-tier player so won't have any problems giving Wade the reins. However, Wade probably is looking to emulate Kobe of late rather than Jordan, so this isn't particularly likely to happen. However, if Gay sticks around in Memphis he and OJ Mayo might have a chance at something special. If the Grizzlies drop Z-Bo after his recent off-court dramas then the bulk of the scoring will need to come from Mayo and Gay. These guys have superstars in the waiting written all over them and I truly hope this comes about. Seniority is an issue here though, the major roadblock being whether or not Mayo will be given top-dog status by Gay in this partnership. Another combination which could be hugely successful is that of Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala in Philly. The likely number 2 draft pick has a literal running mate in the uptempo Sixers outfit. Iggy is paid like a superstar but has a second option mentality. Perfect for a killer wing player like Turner. I'm drooling at the prospect. Danny Granger is another player begging for a SG to step up and be the man while he just does his thing at SF.
So there you have it. The tw0-man combinations I feel can lead to championship success, or at least title contention. While it appears that we are in a SF-league at the moment, dominant big men are becoming more and more important as the length of the Lakers and dominance of Dwight Howard are a roadblock any team will have to overcome in the future. It is possibilities like these that make me love the sheer intricacy and beauty of the greatest game on the planet.
Now to get some sleep before Game 5.


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